By Tony Proffitt
Bullock was considered one of the most outstanding Texas political leaders of the 20th Century. He was often compared to U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Bullock was a legendary public official and noted for his political abilities and legislative skills. His public career spanned more than 40 years and he was considered a principal architect of modern Texas government.
Bullock served two terms as lieutenant governor. He chose not to run for re-election at the end of his second term and left public office in January 1999.
After his retirement he was associated with Public Strategies of Austin.
A powerful and respected politician, Bullock grew up in Hillsboro and was first elected to public office as a state representative in 1956 representing his hometown. That set in motion a public service career that ended when he stepped down as lieutenant governor in 1999.
While still in the Legislature, Bullock enrolled in law school. He earned a law degree from Baylor University as well as a bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University. He was also a graduate of Hillsboro Junior College.
He believed in a strong philosophy of “doing what’s right for Texas” in all the political offices he held.
While serving as assistant attorney general, Bullock headed up the first anti-trust and consumer protection division in that office. He won several historic cases including a multi-million-dollar recovery from five large drug companies which had conspired to fix prices.
He also served on the staff of former Governor Preston Smith before being appointed Texas Secretary of State.
He was an active Secretary of State and pushed for voting rights for 18-year-olds. He also championed campaign finance and election law reforms.
Bullock was elected State Comptroller after leaving the Secretary of State’s office. He was Texas’ chief financial officer and tax collector for 16 years.
His tenure as Comptroller was marked by a series of innovations for that office and state government. He became the first elected state official to adopt an equal employment opportunity program. He was among the first elected officials to use computer technology in state government to cut costs and improve productivity.
He was the winner of numerous national awards for his management skills as Comptroller, including the Leon Rothenberg Taxpayer Service Award. Bullock is generally credited with turning the Comptroller’s office into an effective government agency and a tremendous asset in managing the finance of Texas government.
Bullock pledged fair but aggressive audits as Comptroller and made statewide headlines with a long series of “raids” on business owners who had collected state taxes from customers but did not turn them into the state.
As an outgrowth of his tax collecting efforts, the term “Bullock’s Raiders” entered the Texas government lexicon.
As Comptroller, Bullock’s frequent and increasingly accurate forecasts on state finances allowed the Texas Legislature to better budget for state expenditures.
He also developed a Taxpayer Bill of Rights to guarantee that Texas taxpayers were treated with fairness, courtesy and common sense.
He favored a hands-on management style that he carried to the lieutenant governor’s office in 1991. This resulted in numerous achievements as the presiding officer of the Texas Senate.
He overhauled the ethics laws during his first term in an effort to restore public confidence in state government. He created the Texas Performance Review for the State Comptroller to analyze spending at state agencies and recommend cost-saving alternatives.
He helped consolidate all environmental agencies into one department in an effort to better serve Texans and protect the state’s natural resources.
He pushed through a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval before a state personal income tax can be enacted and requiring the money be earmarked for education, if voters approve the tax.
He led efforts to modernize the Texas tax system and worked on state problems in tort reform, health and juvenile justice.
Bullock was instrumental in finding a legislative solution to get Texas out of federal court lawsuits involving prisons and mental health.
He was a leader in legislative efforts to revamp the state’s educational funding system and he ushered through a law that created the state’s first comprehensive water conservation and management plan.
He promoted establishing a state museum in the Capital Complex. Lawmakers
during the 76th Legislature in 1999 voted to name the museum after him for his work
on the project.
Bullock’s accomplishments were shaped by his drive as a problem-solver.
He could be demanding and an arm-twister. More often than not he used his ability to pull people together to work out a compromise on legislation to solve serious problems.
He also enforced a strict non-partisanship rule in the Senate, often admonishing lawmakers to leave their politics at the front door.
Most of all Bullock’s work was driven by his love for Texas. That sentiment was summed up in his trademark saying, “God Bless Texas.”
Bullock was a veteran of the Korean War and a 33rd degree Mason. He was a hunter and outdoorsman as well as a member of the National Rifle Association.
He was the holder of many awards and honors, including the Distinguished Alumnus award from Baylor University and an honorary Doctor of Humanities in Medicine degree from Baylor College of Medicine. He was honored with a Distinguished Alumnus Award from Texas Tech University and was a member of the Hall of Fame at Hill College.
He was given the Santa Rita Award by the University of Texas Board of Regents and also chosen to receive the Frank C. Erwin award presented by The University of Texas.
Other honors included the Freedom of Information Foundation’s James Madison Award, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club’s Stewardship of Texas Values Award, the Friend of Education award from the Classroom Teachers Association, the Washington Birthday Association’s Mr. South Texas award, the Louisville Gold Medal from the Municipal Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada and Outstanding Texas Leader Award from the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Forum.
He served on the boards of Baylor College of Medicine, the George Bush School of Government and Public Service, the Star Museum Board at Washington-on-the-Brazos and the Zale Lipshy University Medical Center.